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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 22:24 GMT 23:24 UK
Bank lends zest to flat BBC Global 30

By Jamie Robertson
BBC World business presenter

Businessmen outside the HQ of Japan's Mizuho Financial in Tokyo
Japan's banking stocks are heading in the right direction

Forget about rising oil stocks - the sector that has caught the imagination of global markets over the last month has been Japanese banking.

The stock that stands out above the rest on the BBC's Global 30 index is Mizuho Financial, which has gained a massive 20%.

Overall, though, the BBC Global 30 index dropped 1.4% in August.

Ironically, the failure of the Japan Post privatisation and the announcement of Japan's 11 September election proved the turnaround point for banking stocks.

"In macro-economic terms there are two seismic events going on in Japan, one an emergence from deflation and the other a change in the political landscape that produces an unequivocally reformist government," says Henry Maxey, an investment director at Ruffer LLP.

In the short-term, be believes the run-up in financial stocks is overdone, but "they are going in the right direction".

Growth predictions

Indeed, the markets are expecting great things from the Japanese economy.

This month the International Monetary Fund more than doubled its growth projection for Japan in 2005 to 1.8%. Nomura, CSFB and UBS have all raised their recommendations on Japanese financial stocks to overweight.

Perhaps a measure of the recovery is that Mizuho said it was repaying - on time - $6.3bn (3.4bn) of the money it borrowed from the Japanese government between 1988 and 1989, when it was struggling to recapitalise itself.

It said it would pay back the whole lot - another $7.4bn - by 2007.

However, Samsung Electronics, the star performer of the Global 30 last month, fell 7.2% this month - a victim of soaring oil prices as investors began to fear that US exports would dry up as consumers tightened their purse strings.

Oil costs

Oil refinery in southern Louisiana
Hurricane Katrina has caused widespread disruption in the US

They may well be right. The Global 30's drop in August was mostly to do with oil prices and a lacklustre US market.

Retail giant Wal-Mart was down an alarming 10.7% in the month it reported its smallest quarterly gain in four years - just 6%.

And it was the oil price that was mostly to blame. Wal-Mart's low-end customer base is hardest hit when petrol prices go up.

On top of that, the company's own costs have been ratcheted up - freight costs alone were up $30m in the quarter.

But there are some things even the price of oil has no control of.

Citigroup shares took a tumble when Marjorie Magner, its consumer banking chief and one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, said she was leaving for a career break two months after she was injured in a road accident.

Her record is impressive - 22% annual growth in Citigroup's biggest unit since 2001.

Citigroup shares were down 1.5% on the month.

Court action

It was a tough month to be a drug company.

Norwegian researchers announced that GlaxoSmithkline's antidepressant Paxil (also known as Seroxat and Paroxetine) was linked to an increased suicide risk in adults.

There were vigorous denials from Glaxo and the British company's shares actually gained 0.2%.

Meanwhile, a California court began proceedings against 39 drug companies, including Glaxo, alleging they inflated prices and effectively defrauded the state-run Medi-Care programme.

Pfizer lost a court case where it had tried to stop generic drug manufacturers from making a version of its Neurontin epilepsy drug. The US drug firm's shares were down 3.1%.

But litigation was not confined to drug companies.

US chemical maker Du Pont 's shares fell 7.9%. It has been battling a case involving allegations over its Teflon coating treatments and now it has been hit with a $15.5m jury verdict involving a Mississippi man who claimed chemicals from a company factory caused his blood cancer.

The decision on whether punitive damages will be awarded was delayed because of the chaos caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Du Pont will appeal but there are some 2,000 other cases pending alleging illnesses caused by the same factory.

Hurricane damage

The chemical companies have all been hit by higher oil costs, which are increasingly hard to pass on to customers.

Germany's BASF was the worst performing stock on the Global 30 index, falling 14%.

On a brighter note, Microsoft was the biggest gainer of the Global 30 US companies, up 4% as investors bet on an increased dividend this year, a successful launch of the new Xbox console and the new (delayed) Windows operating system.

As for the oil companies, their performances were largely disappointing.

BP was up a tiny 0.2% on the month. Exxon was down 0.5%.

The jury is still out on how much damage Hurricane Katrina has done to their Gulf operations.

Chinese oil group CNOOC did well, rising 2.1% after failing to buy the Californian oil company Unocal.

But its earnings disappointed the markets, and the dividend was thought to be pretty poor.

Its Indonesian operation has underperformed and there is a suspicion that the profits are being saved for acquisitions.

Not everyone believes CNOOC will buy wisely or well.

BBC Global 30 intraday chart


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